Raising plants from seed

Cultivating a bountiful garden from seed is satisfying for the soul as well as budget-friendly.

The seed which holds all the potential of an entire plant – is one of nature’s most fascinating phenomena. On the most basic level, a seed is the means by which a plant reproduces itself, but it’s incredible to think that entire trees can be contained in tiny kernels.

Something that can grow to hundreds of feet tall can fit into something you can hold between your fingertips. In fact, the potential it holds is beyond just a single plant, because that plant can give rise to countless others.

One seed really can produce a whole forest.

Growing plants from seed is an exciting and rewarding process, as you get to see the journey of your plant’s life from the very beginning.

It’s also a fun project for kids to be involved in – they get to check its daily progress, and it’s a great biology lesson. There are so many benefits to growing from seed: it’s much cheaper than buying seedlings, packets can be shared as they often contain a large number of seeds and you get a wider variety to choose from, such as heirloom varieties that are not always available in garden centres.

Seeds can also be saved from your own or friends’ plants. Nearly all plants produce seeds – the trick to knowing how to save them is watching to see when they are ‘ripe’.

A plant will often indicate that its seeds are ready to harvest by producing pods, fluffy tufts, seed heads or berries that turn brown or begin to shrivel and die.

Saving seeds costs nothing and you’re able to be selective in choosing from particularly healthy and hardy plants that have produced well. Autumn and summer are generally the best times of year for this, as most plants flower in spring and summer and then set seed the following season.

Seed swaps are also a lovely way of sharing what you have an abundance of and getting hold of different varieties of seeds.

There are many Facebook groups where you can swap seeds or plants.

How to grow from seed

Choose which seeds you want to grow and find out what time of year is best to sow them.

Decide whether you want to plant your seeds straight into the garden, in containers or in seed raising trays (the seed packet should guide you on this or you can do a quick search online).

Seeds such as peas, beans and carrots are best sown directly into the garden, whereas many other seeds are better in seed raising trays or containers.

Directions for sowing in containers and trays

  1. Make sure you start with clean or new containers/trays to avoid contamination. Fill them with an organic seed raising mix, leaving about 1cm at the top.

  2. Use a hand sprayer or gentle sprinkler setting on your hose to lightly water the mixture.

  3. Sow the seeds into the mixture and cover with a thin layer of seed raising mix.

  4. You could place a cover such as glass, a plastic bag or even newspaper over the top to retain moisture and warmth for germination.

  5. Put label markers (you could use popsicle sticks or similar) next to your seeds if planting more than one variety, then place them in a warm spot with natural light.

  6. Water regularly using a hand sprayer or gentle sprinkler setting on your hose. The mixture should be kept damp but not soaked.

  7. Once you can see two sets of leaves sprouting, your seedling is ready to be transplanted into a small pot (ideally biodegradable) filled with organic potting mix.

  8. As your seedlings grow, give them short spells outside, which will help them to ‘harden off’. This process helps to acclimatise the seedlings and prevent transplant shock.

  9. Your seedlings will be ready to plant in the garden when they’re about the size of regular seedlings you’d buy at a garden centre, provided the climate conditions are warm enough (no frost).

  10. Once planted, give them regular feeding with an organic fertiliser such as a seaweed mix. Compost can be added between the plants or lightly forked in without disturbing the roots. Watering as needed is also vital.

  11. To provide extra protection for small seedlings from the elements, as well as pests, you could cover them with cloches.

Directions for sowing directly into the ground

  1. Prepare the area you want to plant into by gently forking in compost and raking to form a fine seedbed. Ideally soil should be well-drained in a sunny position.

  2. Sprinkle seeds over the area and lightly rake in. Water lightly and cover with a fine layer of extra soil. Gently water again.

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